Soybean Oils in the Pipeline
Soybean oil is by far the most widely consumed oil in the United States, representing about 75% of edible oil consumed domestically. Food manufacturers and foodservice operators select soybean oil most often due to its wide availability, neutral flavor, consistent quality and good nutritional profile. With few exceptions, home cooks reaching for their vegetable oil will find soybean oil as the sole ingredient if they check the label.
Today’s soybean oil is low in saturated fat, virtually trans fat-free, an excellent source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and a provider of vitamin E. Because of the large quantity of soybean oil consumed, it is the leading source of omega-3 fatty acids in the U.S. diet.
Innovations in plant breeding and food biotechnology allow seed technology companies to produce new seed varieties that will lead to healthier oils for human consumption. This pipeline of enhanced soybean varieties will generate oils with better nutritional profi les and product performance.
Taking the Trans Out: To remove trans fats from the food supply, new soybean oils have been introduced that do not require hydrogenation (the process that creates trans fats) for use in manufacturing and foodservice’s frying applications.
- low linolenic soybean oil –- containing less than 3% linolenic vs. the traditional 7% -- offers an excellent alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. It is now commercially available.
- Oils with increased oleic content should be in the marketplace in two years for further health and functionality benefits.
Keeping an Eye on Sats: Along with trans fats, saturated fat reduction continues to be an important goal. Though soybean oil is not high in saturated fats, there is significant research underway on varieties with reduced saturates (at 7% or less vs. the traditional 15%), especially reduced palmitic fatty acid, considered one of the saturated fatty acids most detrimental to human health because it raises blood cholesterol levels to the greatest degree.
Omega-3 Opportunities: Another issue concerning cardiovascular health is the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids (found primarily in seafood) versus omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Soybeans offer a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and researchers are working to make soy even richer in these fatty acids. Although the majority of evidence that suggests omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of heart disease pertains to the longer-chain forms found in fi sh (EPA and DHA), the shorter-chain ALA may also have health benefi ts. The goal is to create an affordable, land-based, renewable source of omega-3s that makes it easier to create great-tasting products rich in this nutrient.
Scientific advancements have produced soybeans with traits differing from the commodity soybean. It is anticipated that advancements will continue in the lab and on the farm to produce ingredients and foods that will positively impact health.